Jim Crow for the 80%

This compelling article  makes a case for a corporate war on education.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools

The Motivation: Keep the Masses Down as Inequality Rises

It’s one thing for big businesses to be anti-worker and anti-union, but also anti-student? Why would business lobbies deliberately strive to create what amounts to widespread education failure?

It’s not hard to see how certain sectors in the corporate world, like the producers of online learning platforms and content, could cash in. But it’s harder to fathom why corporate leaders who don’t stand to make money directly would devote so much time and attention to making sure, for example, that no public high school student in the state of Florida could take home a diploma without taking an online course. (Yes, that’s now law in the Sunshine State).

It’s about more than short-term cash. While Lafer acknowledges that there are legitimate debates among people with different ideological positions or pedagogical views, he thinks big corporations are actually more worried about something far more pragmatic: how to protect themselves from the masses as they engineer rising economic inequality.

“One of the ways I think that they try to avoid a populist backlash is by lowering everybody’s expectations of what we have a right to demand as citizens,” says Lafer. “When you think about what Americans think we have a right to, just by living here, it’s really pretty little. Most people don’t think you have a right to healthcare or a house. You don’t necessarily have a right to food and water. But people think you have a right to have your kids get a decent education.”

Not for long, if Big Business has its way. In President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, they have dedicated partners in redirecting public resources to unregulated, privately owned and operated schools. Such privatization plans, many critics say, will reinforce and amplify America’s economic inequality.

U.S. public schools, which became widespread in the 1800s, were promoted with the idea that putting students from families of different income levels together—though not black Americans and other racial minorities until the 1950s—would instill a common sense of citizenship and national identity. But today, large corporations are scoring huge successes in replacing this system with a two-tiered model and a whole new notion of identity.

Lafer explains that in the new system, the children of the wealthy will be taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids. But the majority of America’s children will be consigned to a narrow curriculum delivered in large classes by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research showsthat the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits. In the words of Noam Chomsky, who recently spoke about educationto the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), “students will be controlled and disciplined.” Most will go to school without developing their creativity or experiencing doing things on their own.

The New Reality: Two Americas, Not One

Economist Peter Temin, former head of MIT’s economics department and INET grantee, has written a book, The Vanishing Middle Class, which explains how conditions in America are becoming more like a third-world country for the bulk of its people. He agrees with Lafer that the corporate-driven war on public schools is not just about money, but also about a vision of society.

People like Betsy DeVos, he says, are following the thinking of earlier ideologues like James Buchanan, the Tennessee-born, Nobel Prize–winning economist who promoted current antigovernment politics in the 1970s. The “shut-the-government-down” obsession is really an extreme form of libertarianism, he says, if not anarchism.

Temin also agrees that shrinking the horizons of America’s kids makes sense to people who follow this philosophy. “They want to exploit the lower members of the economy, and reducing their expectations makes them easier to manipulate,” says Temin. “When they aren’t able to go to college and get decent jobs, they become more susceptible to things like racist ideology.”

In other words, dismantling the public schools is all about control.

Buchanan was an early proponent of school privatization, and while he echoed the fears and frustration many Americans felt concerning desegregation, he typically made a non-race-based case for preserving Jim Crow in a new form. He argued that the federal government should not be telling people what to do about schooling and suggested that citizens were being stripped of their freedom. But as Sam Tanenhaus points out in The Atlantic, issues of race always lurked in the background of calls for educational freedom and “choice.” In a paper he co-authored, Buchanan stated, “every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing.” Segregationists knew what that meant.

Policies that end up reducing educational opportunities for those who lack resources creates inequality, and economic inequality reduces support for public schools among the wealthy. It’s vicious feedback loop.

In his book, Temin describes a process that happens in countries that divide into “dual economies,” a concept first outlined by West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics. Lewis studied developing countries where the rural population tends to serve as a reservoir of cheap labor for people in cities — a situation the top tier works very hard to maintain. Temin noticed that the Lewis model now fits the pattern emerging in the richest country in the world.

America, according to Temin, is clearly breaking down into two sectors: Roughly 20% of the population are members of what he calls the “FTE sector” (i.e., the finance, technology, and electronics sectors). These lucky people get college educations, land good jobs, enjoy social networks that enhance their success, and generally have access to enough money to meet most of life’s challenges. The remaining 80%live in a world nothing like this; they live indifferent geographies and have different legal statuses, healthcare systems, and schools. This is the low-wage sector, where life is getting harder.

People in the low-wage sector carry debt. They worry about insecure jobs and unemployment. They get sick more often and die younger than previous generations had. If they are able go to college, they end up in debt. “While members of the first sector act,” Temin has said, “these people are acted upon.”

Temin traces the emergence of the U.S. dual economy to the 1970s and 80s, when civil rights advances were making a lot of Americans uneasy. People who had long been opposed to the New Deal began to find new ways to advance their agenda. The Nixon administration gave momentum to anti-government, free market fundamentalist ideologies, which gained even more support under Reagan. Gradually, as free-market programs became policy, the rich began to get richer and economic inequality began to rise. Economist Paul Krugman has called this phenomenon the “Great Divergence.”

But it was still possible to move from the lower sector to the affluent sector. The path was tough, and much harder for women and people of color. Yet it existed. Through education and a bit of luck, you could develop the skills and acquire the social capital that could propel you out of the circumstances you were born into.

The dismantling of public education, as Temin sees it, will shut off that route for vastly more people. Like the privatization of prisons, which has increased incarceration rates and cut the mobility path off for more Americans, putting schools into private hands will land even more on the road to nowhere. Even those who were born into the middle class will increasingly get pushed back.

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